As part of Volkswagen’s settlement with the U.S. EPA over its Clean Air Act violations, Minnesota will receive up to $47 million dollars to help mitigate the environmental damage caused by its diesel vehicles. Now the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) gets to decide how the funds will be spent.
How can you get involved?
In June, the MPCA will hold public meetings across the state to get input on how it should spend the funds. Meetings will be held in Marshall, Rochester, Bemidji, Duluth, Minneapolis, and Burnsville (more info on the meetings can be found on MPCA’s website).
What’s Fresh Energy’s take?
Fresh Energy is urging the MPCA to increase its support for electric vehicles (EVs). Specifically, we’re asking them to spend the maximum allowable amount (15%) on public EV chargers, and an additional 35% to support heavy-duty electric vehicles, like school or transit buses.
Electric vehicles have dramatically lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline vehicles. As the PCA noted in its excellent The Air We Breathe Report, EVs have much lower CO2 emissions when charged on Minnesota’s current electric grid, and when charged with renewable energy, they emit almost no greenhouse gases at all! Transitioning to EVs is essential to meeting our state’s greenhouse gas reductions goals, as the transportation sector is now the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota.
Gasoline vehicles don’t just harm our climate, they also wreak havoc on public health. Burning gasoline and diesel produces harmful gases like carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to serious respiratory diseases and can even cause premature death. In the Twin Cities, particulate matter and ozone pollution contribute to 2,000 deaths, 400 hospitalizations, and 600 emergency room visits per year.
Most troublingly, the cost of this pollution is not distributed equally; it falls disproportionately on children, the elderly, low-income people, and people of color. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s and Department of Health’s 2015 Life and Breath report took an in-depth look at the effects of air pollution in the Twin Cities by zip code. The results (at p. 36 – 38) are staggering:
- Rates of premature death due to air pollution are 45% higher in high-poverty neighborhoods and 33% higher in neighborhoods in which the majority of residents are people of color.
- Rates of respiratory hospitalizations due to air pollution are 68% higher in high-poverty neighborhoods and 66% higher in neighborhoods in which the majority of residents are people of color.
- Rates of asthma-related ER visits due to air pollution are 5 times higher in high-poverty neighborhoods and 4 times higher in neighborhoods in which the majority of residents are people of color.
Electric vehicles reduce these harmful emissions, and, more importantly, move them out of dense urban areas, because EVs have no tailpipe emissions. By contrast, the pollution from gasoline cars occurs right where the car is driving; the concentrated pollution along high-traffic corridors (like freeways) severely impacts the surrounding communities and affects dramatically more people.